Deb Friedes & Dance in Israel

by Karen Krolak

In 2003, Monkeyhouse Company Choreographers, Nicole Harris and Amelia O'Dowd, arranged to send me to an Improvisation Workshop at Bennington College for a week. It was an amazing present that introduced me to a gaggle of brilliant dancers as it challenged, provoked, and inspired me.

Thanks to facebook, I recently discovered that Deborah Friedes, whom I met at that workshop, has been conducting some fascinating interviews with choreographers in Israel as part for her Fulbright Fellowship in 2007 - 2008. Apparently, she has decided to stay in Tel Aviv beyond the fellowhsip to continue researching dance in Israel and has started a website on the topic.

It is always wonderful to discover someone else who shares your passion and enthusiasm for a subject and I have really enjoyed her podcasts. Having never heard of Inbal Pinto, Avshalom Pollack, or Shlomit Fundaminsky before, I am eager to track down their work now. So if you get a chance, I highly recommend poking around Dance in Israel.


Catching Up With Anne Bluethenthal

by Karen Krolak
After my trip to the archives on my first day at the Jacob’s Pillow Choreographers’ Lab, I returned to my cabin and bumped into Anne Bluethenthal from San Francisco. Her eyes were full of an inviting sense of mischief and we quickly became friends. She seemed like a natural choice to begin this series of interviews with the other Lab participants.

KK: What brought you to the Choreographers' Lab?

AB: Artistic isolation; career transition; temporary unemployment which allowed me some time; hunger for input; and the urging of a best friend who said this was something I should do.

KK: This sounds eerily familiar. No wonder we connected so immediately.

AB: Yes, I have been creating what I consider community based art for much of my career, and although I am certainly part of one of the richest and most interesting dance communities in the country, and in spite of the fact that I am blessed with many friends, colleagues, collaborators, and students, I have little if any opportunity to work, dialogue, and reflect with a group of like-minded, community oriented/interested choreographers.

KK: Was it strange not to be in charge of the artistic process?

AB: After 25 years as teacher, director, choreographer, Artistic Director, I was keen to spend a week in the role of student and peer.

KK: So, what was the hardest part of the Lab for you?

AB: I realized during the week long Lab that I am a very solitary creature. Human interaction is actually extremely difficult for me. To be in a situation – lovely, stimulating, exciting as it was – where I was called upon to be in constant interaction, was unusually challenging for me.

KK: So how did that affect your work there?

AB: For example, by being compelled to collaborate on choreographies of someone else’s initiation, I had to confront that I am fairly addicted to listening and waiting. That was utterly impossible in that environment of continual interaction. Anyway, all of this was both hard and fascinating and self-enlightening and stretching and learning for me. Finally, being set in the beautiful Berkshire Hills with virtually no time to walk and contemplate was quite torturous.

KK: I looked at your website and realized that Nora Chipamire danced for you. I can't believe that this never came up in any of our conversations because I love her work.

AB: Nora is a gem. She danced with me for just a year, a few years back, but we have stayed in touch. She was delightful. As a dancer, she was a striking performer, hungry to learn what I had to teach, completely embracing of the 'underlying philosophy' of my work, and ready to engage with the material physically, intellectually, politically, and emotionally. She left to go work for Urban Bush Women and is now Associate Artistic Director for Jowalle while being very successful in her own work. We have had a great dialogue about the language of dance, the African contemporary scene, the europeanization of these emerging forms, etc. She's a talented, intelligent, artist -- I'm enjoying watching her make her mark.

KK: I'm really impressed that you have managed to keep a company afloat in San Francisco for 25 years and have a family. What advice do you have about building a sustainable company?

AB: This is not exactly advice, because I don’t know about building a viable company.

KK: What do you mean? Tons of companies never make it to 10 years let alone 25.

AB: Every year or so, I seem to have to reconstruct mine out of nothing. Ephemeral is the art; so is the company. Others may be different.

KK: So how did you start?

AB: My intention was to make work I felt was necessary for me to make…to speak the only way I know how about my passions, my rages, my outrages, my heartbreaks… to try to make sense of a world that otherwise festers inside me and threatens my life. (so dramatic, but true) … so, if you want some idea of success, make that your goal and stick to it.. if you want money, make that your goal and make decisions accordingly… if you want community, make work in a way and in a context that builds that or draws that to you.. I set out to survive and to make work. I have been extremely fortunate to have maintained this enterprise (even if it feels marginal) for as long as I have… and I did it while working a few jobs always. My brilliance was to have all my jobs feed me and my art in the most important ways.

KK: Ok, before I interrupted you, you were going to share some advice…

AB: Yes, collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Don’t be obsessed about growth.

KK: That last part is so tough though.

AB: Well, it helps to be very clear about what your intentions are and work constantly on becoming mindful about whether your artistic and career choices are in line with these intentions.

KK: And how do you suggest people balance that mindfulness with a budget?

AB: Find multiple streams of income all of which relate back to your heart-goals…. I think we all have some core values that manifest in heart-goals… we can either construct our lives in a way that emerges from and feeds back to this point of tether, or we can construct our lives in a way that is antagonistic to it. Without any effort, being in the world and putting our work out and being in relation is going to cause ample antagonism, so best to consciously construct your life and your company in a way that minimizes that.

KK: Anything else?

AB: Get lots of help from friends, family, dancers, administrators, spirits, animals, plants, and anything else that feeds you, gives you perspective, makes you laugh, reminds you that you are beautiful, unique, talented, that your voice is important… and then let them remind you that, at the same time, you are not at all unique and that we are all drops in an enormous ocean and that no particular success or failure matters as much as the fact that we are staying on our heart course, living according to our particular necessity, speaking our truth no matter how popular or unpopular it may be

KK: Any big plans for your 25th season?

AB: I have no idea.. I have no money, little support, few dancers, no venue, and ideas that don’t fit the circumstances… but this is always how it begins… I will no doubt draw a community together for it… I envision big wild retrospective excerpts; raw, intimate, new solo experiments; and some opportunities to pass on to a few younger dancers, old solos I have worn for long enough…

KK: One of the nights when we were sitting on our cabin "porch" chatting, you mentioned that you were considering producing your work in a new venue. Have you had any ideas about that?

AB: My thought about venue change is part and parcel of trying to re-conceive myself as an artist. I'm trying to reconcile some opposing passions and circumstances: my love of the big proscenium stage - my desire to do intimate, visceral work; my love of large scale productions - my lack of resources to support that; my love of ensemble choreography - the unavailability of dancers due to economics and the instability of dancer commitments (they used to stay in a company for years, now a year or 2 is the average); my distaste for the increasing commodification of the arts - the performing artist's need to have audience in order to support the work which is expensive to produce; my body of work which relies on a company - my desire to create a solo repertoire; my desire to create solo work - my age, which is drawing me into a new form for dance-theater...

KK: What are you working on at the moment?

AB: I've gotten caught up in the rush of this upcoming 'dance in the streets' event on October 31, creating a new solo for a show called 'Dancing the Dead/Karma' for November 1, and working on a film on the women's movement in SF mission district. These are 'different' and a nice change for the moment from the large scale company production. So, I'm pausing this moment to allow whatever is formulating itself in me to celebrate this 25th year... maybe it will be a little black box, invited audience, intimate solo retrospective... something where I can feel really free to depart entirely from the prevailing aesthetic forms of my earlier works... a discovery of dance after 50...

KK: Whatever it is please invite me. Well, thanks for taking the time for this interview. I do miss the luxury of talking with you on a daily basis.


Monkeyhouse Open House!

October 18 & 19
Arlington Open Studios
12PM - 5PM
Monkeyhouse's office -
Top Floor Gibbs Center | 41 Foster Street | Arlington, MA 02474-6813

Please get your glitter on and stop in and meet some of the people who keep this organization thriving. You can see some company video footage, get an up close view of some of our outrageous costumes, and purchase Monkeyhouse loves ME!!! T-shirts, hats, blankets, publicity photos, and more. If you are lucky you might even bump into a choreographer or two ;)

Plus there will plenty of other artist studios to peek into. Check here for a preview


Helping Nonprofits - Suggestion # 3

Change - Listening to the debate last night, the word 'change' was a constant echo and refrain. It reminded me of one of the simplest ways to finance a donation: gather change.

It sounds silly but we are surrounded by more nickels and dimes than we often realize. I once purchased a zebra shaped ottoman by recycling cans and saving up the proceeds. The shop clerks had a good giggle when I produced what felt like half my body weight in rolled coins but even they were impressed by the way my patience paid off.

One of the first fundraising efforts that Monkeyhouse put together was the Monkey Money can. We passed out coffee containers covered with illustrations of the orange wigged dancers. Potential donors could take them home to fill with any loose change they found in their pockets and purses. Once the cans were full, they could bring them back to us. We would count and wrap the coins to save people time. Usually, they were delighted when they received their thank you letter to discover that they had given a bigger donation than they had expected they could.

So if you are feeling nervous about being able to afford a donation, get a nice bowl or jar and see how much change it attracts. You might be pleasantly surprised.


Helping Nonprofits - Suggestion # 2

Matching donations - If you can't give as much this holiday season, take a few minutes to chat with someone in your HR department. They can explain your company's protocol for matching employee donations. This could double or sometimes triple the impact of your gift. So even if you can only give half of your usual donation, the nonprofit will still receive the same amount.

Some places are even willing to match donations made by spouses or retired employees. For more information on corporate giving policies, you might want to consult this extensive list. Even though that list is six pages long, it does not include every American company and may not be up to date, so please double check with the folks in HR.

To demonstrate the power of matching programs:

One of Monkeyhouse's major donors works for Google. (It is amazing to have a genius rooting for you :).) We were thrilled when he discovered that Google would provide a 100% match to his family's substantial annual donation. By magnifying the power of this donation, Monkeyhouse was able to purchase its first company computer, an operating expense most grants would not cover. Without this new Mac, however, we would not have had a work station for our first paid intern. Every day we feel the reverberations of how Google's generosity strengthened Monkeyhouse's infrastructure. Thank again Google.


Helping Nonprofits - Suggestion # 1

GoodSearch: You Search...We Give!

In case you missed it, yesterday's Boston Globe featured a front page article that articulately examined the effects of our economic crisis on the nonprofit sector. In September, the Globe also published this article on the subject.

We know that many people are looking for ways to reign in their spending and yet still support the organizations that they believe in. So, Monkeyhouse is dedicating a few blog entries this week to offer you some assistance. As an organization with a very limited budget, we understand your dilemma and have a few simple suggestions that may help.

Today we want to remind you all of GoodShop.We have covered them before in the blog and in our October e-news because they are a simple way to donate that doesn't cost you a dime. If you go to GoodShop before going to online stores, eg. ebay, amazon, itunes, expedia, etc, a portion of your purchase price (up to 37%)will be donated to the organization of your choosing.

The Dow just slipped under 10,000 for the first time in 4 years. In spite of the cinnamon scented breezes of apple cider doughnuts, Autumn is going to be tough this year. Thanks for supporting any nonprofits this fall (especially Monkeyhouse!!!)...they need you now more than ever.


Sabbatical Synopsis - (part 2)

Continuing on in really no particular order...

* Closed out the season at Jacob's Pillow with Celeste Miller and the other Choreographers' Lab participants,

* Reflected and stretched my way through another birthday at Kripalu with one of my remarkable sisters-in-law,

* Sat so close to the stage at the Sadler Wells Theater in London that I made eye contact with some of Pina Bausch's dancers during Rite of Spring,

* Trekked out to Earthdance to pick up Janine Harrington (who I'd met at the workshop in Orvieto) as she explored the dance scene in the US,

* Glowed with glee when three former students, Ashley Chandler, Sarah Feinberg, and Gaby Mervis dance alongside me in their professional debuts during Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center's Boom Town Festival,

* Cruised around Cape Cod in a convertible with the two people who first encouraged me to dance: Mom and Dad,

* Shared a sumptuous meal with several fascinating people at David Parker's Show Down at Rialto,

* Herded people into the Ted Shawn Theater with my giggling prowess on the Glockenspiel and then overheard Wendy Perron, Editor of Dance Magazine, remark "They choose the right person for that job!",

*Was named Wholphin subscriber of the week,


Monkeyhouse at First Night Boston 2009!

Woo Hoo! Monkeyhouse is thrilled to announce that we were recently invited to perform at Boston's First Night 2009.

We will present new pieces inspired by Karen's artistic adventures during her sabbatical
at John Hancock Hall
at 7:30-8:00 PM and 8:30-9:00 PM
We are busy organizing things at the moment but we will have more information about it for you very soon.


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